LAS VEGAS -- The U.S. Justice Department will aggressively protect the civil liberties, voting rights and safety of Latinos in the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder promised during a Saturday address at the National Council of La Raza Convention in Las Vegas.
Holder also offered a specific warning to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and any agency wanting to emulate Arpaio’s efforts to round up and expel undocumented immigrants at any cost.
“These policies simply have no place in responsible law enforcement, and they must not and simply will not be tolerated as long as I am attorney general of the United States,” Holder said.
The statement drew cheers.
In May, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Arpaio and Maricopa County alleging a pattern of racial profiling, harassment and civil liberties violations directed by Arpaio in Phoenix-area Latino neighborhoods. The suit seeks a federal monitor to oversee the sheriff's department.
Holder's promise came two weeks after the Supreme Court delivered what many legal analysts consider a split decision that may affect the lives of millions of Latinos. The court declared three provisions of Arizona's state-level immigration enforcement law, SB1070, unconstitutional, but allowed the law's so-called "papers, please" provision to stand.
The provision, which requires officers to inquire about the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being undocumented, is now on hold while a lower federal court reviews it. However, civil rights advocates say if it is implemented, SB1070 and laws like it in other states could subject millions of Latinos to frequent profiling by police, illegal arrests and detentions.
In Arizona, 30 percent of the population is Latino.
Holder’s promise also came just two weeks after Congress voted to hold him in criminal contempt. Holder has refused to turn over documents related to Fast and Furious, an investigation that attempted to track guns purchased in the United States then funneled to violent drug cartels in Mexico. One of these guns was later found at the scene of a shootout where an American law enforcement officer died. The precise role Justice Department officials of Fast and Furious played in making the gun available remains unclear. Holder is the first sitting cabinet secretary in U.S. history to face a contempt charge.
Holder has said that the charge is motivated by disdain inside the Republican-controlled Congress for the types of cases the Justice Department pursues.
On Saturday, Holder told NCLR members that since 2009, the Justice Department has brought more hate-crime cases involving violent or dangerous displays of racial or ethnic bias than all eight years of the Bush administration.
The agency’s civil rights division has forced financial firms to pay record fines. The companies, including Bank of America-owned Countrywide Financial, engaged in systematic and deliberate practices that left at least 200,000 black and Latino homebuyers with higher-cost loans than white Americans with similar incomes and credit scores. The loans put black and Latino homebuyers at greater risk of losing their homes to foreclosure.
Since 2010, more than 30 states have considered or passed laws that could require voters to produce state-issued and valid photo identification in order to cast a ballot. The department will contest the policies in court, and refuse to grant approval in others if they have a disparate impact on black and Latino voters, Holder said. The Department of Justice will face the State of Texas in federal court Monday in one such case.
“Like many of you I was raised in a family, in a community, of immigrants,” said Holder, whose father and maternal grandparents immigrated to the United States from Barbados.
“I understand that despite the transformative progress that has been made, our nation's struggle to eliminate injustice and overcome disparities continues. We have further to travel on the road to equality.”
The Template: California Proposition 187 (1994)
California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.
The Worst: Arizona SB 1070
The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. The law was widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It required state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there was "reasonable suspicion" that the individual was undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believed was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010, immediately generating a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. In July 2010 and February 2012, federal judges blocked different provisions of SB 1070, setting the stage for the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/25/sb1070-ruling-supreme-court_n_1614119.html" target="_hplink">the Supreme Court decision of June 25, 2012</a> which struck down multiple provisions but upheld the controversial "papers please" provision, a centerpiece of the law which critics say will lead to racial profiling
Following Arizona's Footsteps: Georgia HB 87
The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17
Verifying Authorized Workers: Pennsylvania HB 1502
This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>
A Spin Off of Arizona: Utah HB 497
Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)
The Most Comprehensive: Florida HB-1C
Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010
The Hot Seat: Alabama HB 56
The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/longislandwins/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by longislandwins</a>
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